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Wahdat al Wujood

Q:

Salaam Alaykum. Many of our scholars who have supported the theory of Wahdat Al Wujood have been attacked and disagreed with, in some cases even cursed. Scholars include Ayatullah Khomeini (May Allah raise his status in Jannah). How do we refute arguments against these individuals and their beliefs? What should the correct stance be in terms of this theory? Ie what should be our approach and opinion towards Wahdat Al Wujood?

A:

Thank you for your question. Waḥdat al-Wujūd is literally translated as the oneness of existence and it is a theory attributed to Ibn ʿArabī even though he did not coin this specific term. However,wujud in theoretical ʿirfān does not mean existence in the same way as it does either literally or in philosophy. In theoretical ʿirfān Wujud means Allah, so the meaning of the term waḥdat al-Wujūdis the oneness of Allah which is another way of saying the tawḥīd of Allah.

The question of tawḥīd is intricate and different groups of Sufis and ʿurafāʾ have understood waḥdat al-Wujūd in different ways. There are some who have reduced tawḥīd to pantheism and others who have understood tawḥīd as numerical oneness. These ideas are simplistic and is not what is meant by the ʿurafāʾ of the Shiʿi sect or indeed by educated Sufis. At the same time, those who disagree with waḥdat al-Wujūd usually reduce the concept to these ideas and this is where the accusation of unbelief stems from. Rather the greatest expressions of tawḥīdare found in our scriptural sources such as that of Amīr al-Muʾminīn when he (as) said: "[He is] with everything not through being juxtaposed, [and He is]not anything [but] not through having departed [from His creation]"[1] or as the Qurʾān has expressed: "And We are closer to him than his jugular vein."[2]Or the duʿāʾ of Imām al-Sajjād when he (as) says: “High in His Lowness and Low in His Highness.”[3]Waḥdat al-Wujūd is a theory that tries to grasp these lofty meanings and is therefore not usually understood on an intellectual level except by those who has a significant background in philosophy and theoretical ʿirfān. As such for most it is not wise to take a stance for or against waḥdat al-Wujūd without studying the theory in some detail and at the same time one should be aware that some have prematurely criticised it based on other issues such as the apparent Sunnism of Ibn ʿArabī (although this is also a hotly debated issue). Rather one should respect the scholarly opinion of those qualified to have one such as Rūḥ Allah Khumaynī and many other Shiʿi ʿurafāʾ and ʿulamāʾ.

Below is a summary of a gloss written of HādīSabzavārī'sSharḥ al-manẓūma by MuḥammadTaqīĀmulī—who was one of the teachers of ʿAbdAllāhJavadīĀmulī—explaining the different views among the ʿurafāʾ, philosophers and Sufis on waḥdat al-Wujūd. The summary is to show the differences in the concept of waḥdat al-Wujūd and its intricate nature as well as the cross over between the philosophical conception ofwujūd and the ʿirfānī one. While some interpretations are clearly problematic others have been the apparent belief of some of the greatest thinkers in our Shiʿi intellectual heritage:

 

MuḥammadTaqī Āmulī states that there are four levels of tawḥīd. There are those that see multiplicity in both wujūd and existent beings and from this multiplicity one is the Necessary Being. This he states is the tawḥīd of most of the common people. Then there are those that see oneness in both wujūd and existents (i.e. that they are one thing). This idea he attributes to the Sufis and is further split into two conceptions. The first is what is attributed to ignorant Sufis who say that wujūdhas only one real referent which does not have an abstract reality behind it and the multiplicity witnessed is conceptual and so has no affect on oneness.

The second concept he attributes to the Sufis who say that wujūd has an abstract reality behind the self-disclosures, but that both the abstract Wujūd and the self-manifestations are the Necessary Being. That is that it is not only the abstract that is Necessary, but rather both aspects of abstract Wujūd and its manifestations, while at the same time the manifestations are fully in need of the abstract. The poverty of the manifestations does not affect its necessity as it is poverty to the same reality that it is. It is this idea that MuḥammadTaqīĀmulī finds this to be the apparent belief of Mullā Ṣadrā especially in his Asfār.

 

The third idea is that of the oneness of Existence and the multiplicity of existents and this is the idea of many philosophers including figures such as Dawānī, MīrDāmād and Mullā Ṣadrā for part of his intellectual life. It means that Wujūd is one without any multiplicity at all not even in terms of gradation, whereas the existents are many which is due to their quiddity. The fourth idea is that of the oneness of Wujūd and the existents while at the same time maintaining their manyness, which again is the idea of the ʿurafāʾ and Mullā Ṣadrā himself.[4]


May Allah guide us to the realization of His tawḥīd and make us of the muwaḥidīn.
 

 

[1]Muḥammad b. Ḥusayn Sharīf al-Raḍī, Nahj al-balāgha, edited by ṢubḥīṢāliḥ (Qum: Manshūrātdār al-hijra, 1993) 40.

[2]Qurʾān, 50:16.

[3]ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn, Ṣaḥīfat al-Sajjādīya, duʿāʾ for the day of ʿArafat, verse 11.

[4]HādīṢabzavārī, Sharḥ al-manẓūmamaʿaḥawāshīmukhtārmin al-ʿallama al-muḥaqiq al-shaykhMuḥammad al-Taqī al-Āmulī, ed. SayyidFāḍil al-Ḥusaynī al-Mīlānī (Qum: Dhawī-al-qurbā, 1430/2009) 63-65. 

'Abd Allah Esmail